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7 Awesome Things to fill in the gaps in your Auckland Itinerary

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Life in Auckland is pretty similar to life in England. I mean it’s easy to just go about my day and forget that I am actually on the other side of the world. I got into a bit of a get up, go to work sort of routine but I’ve been trying my hardest to make some effort to go and do things because actually, I am on the other side of the world and it's an awesome opportunity! Obviously I have to fit this stuff in around work but whether that’s days out at the weekend or wandering around the city during my lunch break I'm making it happen. So here are a few things I've been squeezing around work and some ideas for anyone who has a few hours spare during a visit to Auckland!

Snow Planet
Just a half hour drive from the CBD, (Central Business District) Snow planet is an indoor ski centre and even though I was expectedly terrible, it's definitely a fun way to spend a few hours – we jumped in the car and hit up one of their night sessions after work. I've never been skiing before; indoor or outdoor but it’s fine, they were pretty prepared for my skillset with a little beginners slope and staff everywhere to help direct you. I did spend a lot of time falling on my butt but that’s all part of the fun right?

Beaches
I didn't realise just how many beaches there were to explore in Auckland but there are loads, especially ‘out west’ which is convenient because that’s where we live but it's really not that far from the city either. For the first few weeks after I arrived, every weekend we would get on the bike and go and visit a different one. There’s Muarai and Takapuna but Brown's Bay was my favourite. There was a live event on over the weekend and food stalls all along the front, so we grabbed some lunch (we were halfway through Narcos at the time so made a beeline for the Colombian stand) followed by an ice cream and spent the afternoon listening to the band play in the sunshine. 

Queen Street
This is where I spend most of my time because a. it’s outside my office and b.it reminds me most of home. I like to think of Queen Street as Aucklands answer to Oxford Street apart from that there are alot less people. Still, like when I was at home, I often spend my lunch hours wandering around the shops. There aren’t as many clothes stores here but what NZ lacks in clothes it definitely makes up for with food - Queen Street is full of places to eat! You’ll also find the IMAX cinema and the Sky Tower just a street behind.

Eat Dessert
Admittedly I do have a bit of an ice cream problem but Auckland is the best place for me because it's full of luxury dessert bars! Amongst them all, as you already know, my favourite has to be GIAPO and his imaginative and delicious creations – still the most incredible ice cream in the world if you ask me - I never know what to expect when I head there. These guys are totally geniuses. Whereever I go I try to eat as local as possible, i am fascinated by Maori culture and giapo's maori fry bread ice cream is one of my favourite "new foods" that I’ve discovered whilst travelling and i totally love it! That's why this place will always be one of my top things to do in New Zealand

The Viaduct
This is a wonderful part of the city that I have only just discovered is there. It’s the harbour area, lined with bars and restaurants which honestly, is such a great place to spend an evening. Like I said, its all new to me, I met up with Emily, who I found in the Brits in Auckland Facebook group and on our hunt for happy hour cocktails, we stumbled across The Culpeper. We sat down outside and made our way through the a few espresso martinis whilst the sunset on the water and was back again the week after looking for our next stop - we've been to an Irish pub and a tiki bar there since! Facebook has been crazy useful for stuff like this since I've been travelling!

Sky City Casino
I had kinda come to terms with whilst Auckland is huge and very spread out, everything back home is much bigger and faster paced. But last week, I discovered one thing in this city that that doesn’t apply and that would be the Casino at SkyCITY. With over 2,100 machines and 150 tables, its pretty huge and being open 24/7, it was absolutely buzzing when we went on Saturday night. With bars and restaurants all through it, you can spend hours and hours at this place; and we did!

Go to a gig
Newly discovered by me, Auckland in fact isn't the capital of New Zealand, Wellington is. But saying that, Auckland is actually bigger so you can bet if an act is coming all the way to New Zealand, they'll be playing somewhere in Auckland. I made a last minute decision to join the boys when they went to see Machine Gun Kelly last month and had a blast! Kiwis are pretty into their live events and the atmosphere was amazing! Meet MGKs newest fan!

5 Things I’m loving about life in New Zealand right now

Saturday, 5 May 2018

When I left for my big trip back in September, I had no idea what to expect; I certainly didn't expect it to take me all the way to New Zealand. I've been living here for 11 weeks now and finally I’m starting to feel at home. In the past few weeks, I've moved into my first home, started working and yesterday, I even ignored the sat nav and drove myself home in half the time! 

Life is much slower out here compared to London and right now, I'm enjoying the novelty of all sorts of strange things, from the bus driver saying hello to each person who gets on the bus to just how easy it is to get my junk food fix (seriously I have never seen so many fast food places). Here are some other things I am seriously loving about New Zealand. 

Renting My First Home
When I first arrived here, I went straight to stay with Jonny in his flat-share. But sharing a small room in a house that sometimes had 6 other people in it was hard and we really needed to look for our own place. After a few mediocre flat viewings in locations that made it hard for either one of us to get to work, desperation hit and I posted in a Facebook group with our ideal situation; as if by magic, someone got in touch with the perfect place. It was down the road from where we started and the owner had been renting it out on air bnb (increasingly popular with solo travellers like me because they're a great way to avoid the dreaded single person supplement according to schofields.  See my last post to find out why I'm not solo travelling right now) so it was pretty self contained. It had everything we'd need; plus a swimming pool and a garden with strawberries growing in it. We knew it was right as soon as we saw it and moved in a couple of days later. 
The only problem is that now Jonny knows just how undomesticated I am; unlike in London, it's not normal to still live at home at 25 in NZ. I'm learning though, he's taught me how to use the washing machine and how to change the sheets, although I must be pretty bad because he still prefers to do it himself haha.

The Accent
Honestly, at the moment it still all sounds Australian but I love that even though we all speak the same language, everyone sounds different to me.

I was trying to work out why it's something that I like so much and I finally came to a conclusion. It's because even though my day to day feels pretty normal right now, it’s a constant reminder that I’m not at home anymore and in fact, I’m still on this huge adventure, on the other side of the world.


Riding a Motorbike
Before I left the UK, there was absolutely no way you would have gotten me on the back of a motorbike. Even when I was in Vietnam, where I was desperate to experience the country in the most authentic way I could, I refused most of the time. It seems that quiet roads (there are hardly any people in this country) and a bike licence was all that was needed to convince me to hop on the back of one in the end.

Jonny bought it when I arrived, and we’ve taken it and put it back together a couple of times so I feel a bit attached to it now, like a pet or something. *Sometimes* I actually prefer it over the car; like if we go to the beach on a sunny day or if we pop out for something late at night when the roads really are empty.

Sals Pizza
After weeks of getting my pizza fix from the same places that I do when I'm back home, last week, we went for something a little more exciting. Sal's is based on NY style pizza and it was so good. We got a half and half pizza; pepperoni on one side and crispy breaded chicken on the other, both topped with delicious stringy cheese. It was just like the stuff you see in the films and it's all I've been thinking about this week haha.

They serve it by slice (as well as half or whole) which makes sense because we only got through half the whole pizza between us which is pretty unimpressive for a weekend cheat meal, but fear not! I 100% support that pizza is better the next day so those leftover slices went straight into the fridge to chill and tasted even better in the morning!

Chocolate Dipped Ice Cream
I had my first chocolate dipped ice cream at the cinema and I initially though that it was just the IMAX being a little bit bouji with their snacks. But whether it's the cinema, Giapo or even the ice cream van I seen to be coming across this chocolate dipped phenomenon more and more. My favourite has to have been this one that I got from a corner shop (they call them Dairy's out here. Weird) by the beach in Wellington. There was a vat of molten chocolate next to the tubs of ice cream which my white chocolate and hokey pokey (another strange NZ word haha it means honeycomb) scoop got submerged into. It then dried solid around the outside and stopped any melted ice cream from running out. Sweet As.

The most incredible ice cream in the world: GIAPO, New Zealand

Monday, 12 March 2018

I always knew I was a big foodie but it wasn't until I got to Auckland that I realised just how big a part of my life it is. Yes, I'm still travelling, but my time here is going to be a bit different from my travels so far because I'm planning to stay a while and living in a brand new city (about as far away from home as I can get) means a whole load of new food to try. 

Walking around the supermarket is even more exciting than it is back home (no joke, food shopping has always been one of my favourite things.) I have discovered kumaras, (aka sweet potato) Cadbury's Caramilk (which NZ was going crazy for when I arrived), and I have eaten more ice cream since I got here than I have ever before in my entire life. Mcflurry's are absolutely loaded with toppings but ridiculously expensive, we get through a family sized tub three times a week and I'm making my way through New Zealand's selection of ice cream bars, but my daily habit hit its peak when I visited GIAPO last week. It popped up on Instagram again and again and the photos looked out of this world so I had to visit.
incredible ice cream
Located on Gore Street, in what I have decided is the posh part of town, GIAPO can be spotted from a mile away, its the one with people outside at all times. With everyone holding these weird and wonderful creations, on my first visit, I near enough ran inside of order one for myself.

It was quite overwhelming at first; apart from some strange flavours like Avocado with Sweet Soy Gravy, the menu gave nothing away and seeing things like Hokey Pokey, Afghan Cookies and Kofe Samoa listed meant nothing to me as an English person. Luckily they have someone to talk you through the whole process and ordering becomes all part of the fun. The staff there really make the whole experience such a luxury, from talking you through each flavour to handing out water and wet wipes (absolute essentials) afterwards! 
The best ice cream ever
We went for two traditionally Kiwi flavours, Hokey Pokey (which I now know just means honeycomb. lol) and Afghan Cookie which is a chocolate biscuit of some sort. Now usually when it comes to ice cream, I always go for a tub but if you're gonna do it, you might as well do it properly, right? GIAPO is such a vibe when it comes to serving the ice cream; if you don't fancy one of their crazy cones, you could always go for a Yorkshire pudding or a chocolate cup instead. For me though, the crazy indulgent cones were too much to resist. I picked a chocolate coated waffle cone with golden nuts and freeze dried raspberries the first time and when I came back with Jonny, I was feeling even more boujie and went for one painted in gold. 

For those of you who are wondering, Jonny is my boyfriend and he's from New Zealand. Remember my blog post on Phuket? I met him there and it's just been full on crazy ever since. He was on holiday with his friends and had to go back to work a few weeks later so I guess I kinda just followed him home haha. 
With the weird and wonderful menu (and I'm not just talking about the ice cream or the cones - you can order yours with a chocolate Sky Tower replica on it if you want), GIAPO must be some of the most innovative ice cream in the world, it's definitely the most extravagant I've had. 

As well as my order, which was obviously delicious, I also love the way that the store has been set out in that firstly, you don't get to pick your toppings. Each flavour has its own combination and that's what you get. Secondly you don't see them put it all together like you usually would so you have no idea what it's going to look like when it arrives. When they were brought out to us, mine had been dipped in melted chocolate and had honeycomb chunks sticking out of it and Jonny's was a bit of a monster covered in cornflakes with a chocolate biscuit on top. I only have photos of mine though as I haven't started putting my blogger demands on him yet and he took a bite out of it as soon as it arrived ahah. 
Giapo Ice Cream
Eating them was a lot of fun and with all my ice cream training since I arrived (lol) I managed to finish the whole thing without dropping any of it. I would have been pretty upset if I did because honestly, the whole thing was so delicious. Once I had gotten through the layer of chocolate on top, the ice cream itself was soft, creamy and full of flavour. And the cone? Yeah, that was a really good idea. I've never had anything like it before so if you're ever in Auckland, this place is a must. They also have vegan and GF menus so there really is no excuse!

 I'm already planning my next visit so keep an eye on my instagram story because there is a lot more I want to try. Namely, the hot chips in a cone (odd but I'm very interestd) and their famous 3D printed chocolate squid which is a tribute to TE Papa, the real one that's on exhibition in Wellington!

Things To Do In Chiang Mai

Thursday, 1 March 2018

After my visit to Phuket in January, I decided to bypass Bangkok and fly straight back to my favourite part of Thailand: The North. During the first part of my trip last year, before I flew home for Christmas, I spent almost three weeks exploring Chiang Mai and loved it so much that I was eager to go back just a few weeks later. The first time around, I had only planned to spend 4 or 5 nights there but as soon as I arrived, I realised that there was just so much to see and do, it very quickly became my favourite destination of the trip. In total, I must have spent over a month there and I loved every day.

Whilst most people I met moved on quiet fast, travelling so slowly meant I had time to see the place properly, between exciting day trips, exploring the city, eating absolutely everything and even taking a few days to work remotely with a banana smoothie by my side. Throw in a couple of hungover days spent monging out in the common area with my new friends and you've got yourself the ultimate backpacking destination right there. Here are some of my highlights:

Sunset at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep 
I didn't get around to visiting this famous temple the first time I was there so when one of my friends suggested that we get a group together and split a car up to see it, I was ready to go within seconds! Nine of us clambered into a red truck and drove 45 minutes up a twisty road into the mountains. We grabbed a smoothie (priorities) and made a start on the 300 steps up to the top; making it there just in time for the most incredible sunset. After the sun had gone down over the city, we wandered into the temple complex where we saw the famous golden pagoda and listened as monks prayed outside of it.


A Food Tour
The food is one of the things I loved best about Chiang Mai and whilst I liked to stick to my favourite cheap, street eats, a food tour; which I did with A Chefs Tour was the perfect way to get to know some of Chiang Mai's more hidden spots. They carted us around town in a private song-thaw (similar to a tuk tuk) showing us all sorts of local dishes that I would never have thought to try otherwise. One of my favourite new finds was the lady in the cowboy hat (that's how the locals know her) who serves slow cooked, succulent pork with rice and half a ducks egg. I also loved the deep fried sweet potato balls which we found in a local food market outside of the main town - I had had sweet potato balls the night before on the main tourist street and they weren't even half as nice! These guys know where all the best food is and having a local guide to explain to origins and correct ways to eat the food made the whole thing so authentic. Four hours later, I went to bed absolutely stuffed! 

Partying At ZOE In Yellow
Zoe turned out to be my favourite partying spot in all of Southeast Asia. We didn't go every single night but lets just say we went more often than not. It wasn't quite a club, more a bar that spilled out onto the streets, add in crazy strobe lights and some intense electric dance music and that's Zoes in a nutshell. It actually closed very early so from there most people would go on to Spicy, which was a proper club that stayed open later and just so happened to be in the same direction as my hostel. Don't forget to grab a pad Thai from just outside the bar, I may have been drunk when I ate it but I'm pretty sure the stand outside Zoes was the cheapest and best pad thai that I ate in Thailand!

Taking a Cooking Class 
With food involved, of course I chose to do the full day cooking class over just the morning session. I opted to do my class with Asia Scenic; it was rated number 3 on Trip advisor and I can 100% recommend them to you as well. They were a very reasonable 1,200 baht for a full day plus going with them meant that I had the option to do my class at a small farm outside of the main town rather than at the busy head office right in the middle of it. 

 I'm a big city girl but even I appreciated being away from the hustle and bustle and cooking in a serene, open space. The whole day was a great experience - we cooked and ate 7 different dishes - from spring rolls for starters to mango and sticky rice for dessert - and even got an hour in the middle to wander around the grounds - or take a nap, you know, whatever you want. The dropped me back to my hostel at the end of the day, totally stuffed!

Yi Peng / Loy Kratong: The Lantern Festival
I timed my first trip to Chiang Mai specifically around the annual lantern festival which happens every November and it was just a magical time to be there. With different events happening through the week, the incredible atmosphere can be felt all over the city. 

The hostel that I spent the majority of my time at, Stamps Backpackers, organised things each night so we could all get involved and experience the festival together. The festival is all about giving thanks to the goddess of water so on the first night, we made our own kratongs, (which are little flower float things) lit their candles and sent the on their way along the river (before heading to Zoes of course). 

The next evening, we got in another red truck and made our way to the Mae Jo university which is where the main event happens. There we bought paper lanterns, wrote our hopes and dreams on them and sent them up into the sky. It was pretty amazing but actually it was the night afterwards which was the most memorable for me. A few of us headed back to the river and sat on the banks as hundreds of people let off more lanterns from the bridge. It was an absolute health and safety disaster with alot of them flying strait into the trees and crashing down in flames all around us but what an incredible experience. I would count it as one of my favourite nights ever. 

Chiang Rai Day Trip
Chiang Rai is three hours away from Chiang Mai and is home to some of the regions most interesting and recognisable temples; specifically the white temple. It is a very long day, leaving at 7am and not getting back until around 10 that evening but it was worth it to see the famous temple. As well as the white temples, the tour included lunch and then on to two more temples and a stop off at a traditional long neck village. 

A Few Days In Pai
If there is one thing that you must do when you're in the north of Thailand, it's visit Pai. This little hippy town is three hours away, up in the mountains and the journey itself is an experience with 762 twists and turns in the road,  it was the craziest drive I've every been on but I loved every minute of it.

Apart from that, Pai is an incredible place surrounded by big open roads, beautiful waterfalls and hot springs - it's perfect if you want to rent a bike although still so much fun if you don't. Apart from all the natural beauty, it's home to my favourite street food market in Thailand and is absolutely avocado heaven; like you wouldn't believe. Honestly, you guys know how much I love my avo, I've never seen anything like it before. 
Again, the few days that I planned to stay turned into 6 nights because I wanted to stay for a new jungle party event which has taken the area by storm. I went to one of the first ever Electric Valley nights; a rave in the middle of nowhere; but they are happening every few weeks now as they are so popular. 

Eat Everything
 As well as all of these things, I have spent many a day just wandering around the city hoping from temple to cafe and back again - there are so many of both through the city that you can actually do this day after day and still not see them all. The food scene in Chiang Mai is utterly amazing and incredibly cheap so obviously I took full advantage of that on a daily basis. It's not unusual to find a freshly cooked meal for 35 baht, that's less than a pound. My favourite was a plate of garlic chicken with rice and a fried egg. 

 I'd recommend trying the local dishes such as Khao Soi, which is a curry noodle dish and mango with sweet sticky rice whilst you're here, it's the best you'll find in the country believe me.

Visit An Elephant Sanctuary
This is a really popular thing to do in northern Thailand and you'll find a whole array of different tour companies to book through. A lot of people booked up the day before but I actually booked online a couple of months in advance because I'd heard so much about The Elephant Nature Park beforehand and spaces on their tours fill up months in advance.

All of their elephants have been rescued from abusive pasts and it was super sad to hear some of their stories, especially when you could see how they have been affected but here the elephants have much better lives and are free to wander around as they please.

I did the whole day trip again and between walking around the ground with a guide to meet some of them, we spent the morning feeding them fruit and the afternoon washing them in the river. All in all, its quite an expensive day trip at 2500 baht but a big buffet lunch was also included as were transfers too and from my hostel so it was well worth doing!
And that brings an end to my incredible month in Chiang Mai - I hope I've inspired you to visit if you ever get the chance! 

*Thanks to A Chefs Tour for hosting me on the food tour

A Whirlwind Stay At The Ubud Village Resort, Bali

When we checked into our villa in Bali after a five hour flight from Hong Kong, we thought we'd arrived in paradise; the memory of arriving at that hotel is one that I'll remember for a long time. We walked up candle lit stairs to reception; no walls, just a roof which was pretty amazing considering the hotel is built in the middle of an Indonesian forest. Once we had established that we were not here on a honeymoon, just on holiday, Andrew got on with filling in the forms. I was still a little bit overwhelmed and just needed some time to take everything in; the smell of incense, the Balinese music playing in the background and the sun setting over the treetops. And then the excitement hit me, if this was only the reception, what on earth was our room going to look like?!

We weren’t actually staying in a room, we had booked a garden villa and neither of us knew what to expect, we've always stayed in hotels before. With dinner reservations to get to we quickly hopped on the back of a golf buggy and were driven through along the little forest paths, twisting and turning around corners through the forest until we arrived outside a wooden door, shut with a padlock.
ubud village resort
ubud village resort lockubud village resort welcome
We dropped off our bags and went straight back out so fast forward to the next morning, we woke up in our four poster bed to the sounds of the forest and muted sunlight behind the curtains. I was so excited to finally get a proper look at the place, I jumped straight out of bed and pulled back the curtains to reveal the sun shining down into our little garden...
ubud village resort bed
and reflecting off of the pool; Our own private pool, all to ourselves. Complete with two sun loungers, a day bed and a table and chairs.
ubud village resort pool bali
ubud village resort bali villa
 We were only in Ubud for one full day and we had planned a tour of the town and its temples but after a glimpse of what we had, we agreed to keep our tour as short as possible to give us time to enjoy the villa too. So off we wandered along the forest path in search of breakfast which is served in the hotels restaurant; just through the trees.
ubud village resort bali
Eight thirty and it was already boiling hot so we decided to sit upstairs which had a lovely view over the resort and the women working in the rice paddies next door.  There are only 30 villas at the resort so we hardly saw anyone around apart from then where we were one of three couples at breakfast.

I started my day with a plate of fresh fruit, followed by an open breakfast burrito; my first taste of avocado in weeks and it was delicious!
ubud village resort bali breakfast
After breakfast we met our guide ready for a day of adventure in Ubud but more on that in another post.
tirta empul prayer
sacred monkey forest
We were very excited to arrive back at our villa by 2pm giving us loads of time to enjoy it! Being able to spend the afternoon by our private pool was such a luxury; I could mess around with the selfie stick as much as I liked, go back inside if we wanted something and there was even a plug by the daybed so I could charge my phone. Apart from the normal things, for someone with OCD, I loved not having to check where all my stuff was constantly - it didn’t matter where I left my phone or my raybans because Andrew was the only person there and I didn’t have to worry about him stealing them. It meant that I could close my eyes, and fully relax. ubud village resort bali poolubud village resort bali swim
ubud village resort bali relax
After a splash around, and realising that it was our last evening, we decided to have a little explore around the resort; but first we needed to wash off and that meant time for a dip in our huge stone bath in garden at the back of the villa.
Bali outdoor bath
By about 5:30 we were ready for a snack and stopped off at little poolside bar for a spot of afternoon tea. We drank red rice tea and ate spring rolls with fried banana fritters for sweets which was just enough to keep us going until dinner. We found the communal pool lined with palm trees and lots of hidden huts dotted around the resort and made our way back to the room to get ready for dinner just as the sun was setting. 
Bali outdoorbali long hair forest
ubud bali sunset After dinner it was time to go back to our villa for one last time, walking through the forest path to our packlocked gate. The resort had such a relaxed vibe, we fell asleep in the four poster bed to the sound of the birds chirping outside before our next adventure in the morning.. 
ubud bali bed
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